By Rob Shaul
MTI’s Fall Dryland Ski Training Cycle is one of the few coached training cycles we open up to the public for training. It’s still a “Lab Rat” cycle where we test programming, however, the extra number of athletes provides more data points for our testing and overall evaluation.
Our process is direct. We take a look at the previous year’s programming, its results, make changes to the current year based on these results and other insights, design the programming and deploy it and then study the results.
Then, in the January/February time frame, we update the Dryland Ski Training Plan on the website with programming improvements based on our fall cycle.
In terms of program design, we’ve learned over the years that improvements generally come from cutting stuff, rather than adding stuff. Most programs begin “bloated” with elements which after deployment prove to have limited value. The hard part in programming is not cutting these elements, but avoiding the natural temptation to replace them with some other element. I’ve learned it takes experience and confidence to cut the unnecessary stuff, and instead of replacing it with more extras, find ways to increase the time spent on the programming that we know works and transfers to directly to the mission, event or sport.
Our Fall Dryland Cycle is designed to prepare athletes for lift-assisted downhill, side country, and backcountry, skiing. These activities have 3 specific fitness demands:
(1) Eccentric Leg Strength and Strength Endurance – During downhill or alpine skiing, gravity “bounces” the skier down the hill, and eccentric leg strength is demanded to absorb every drop and prevent gravity from driving the skier into the ground.
(2) Leg Lactate Tolerance – This is an MTI-specific idea and term I developed to describe the quad burn skiers feel in the middle to the end of a long ski run, especially through bumps, variable terrain, or powder. The concept does not include the obvious muscle fatigue, but also the anaerobic cardio hit.
(3) Uphill hiking/skinning endurance and stamina – both side country and backcountry skiing have significant uphill components – bootpacking mostly for side country and skinning mostly for backcountry. Preparing athlete’s legs and lungs for this uphill movement is a key focus of our dryland ski training cycles.
These are four days/week, 7-week cycles with the individual training sessions designed to last 60 minutes. Early in the cycle, we’ll have extra time after hammering legs and lungs for “other stuff.” As the athletes increase fitness, and our progressions develop, later in the cycle, more and more of each training session is spent hammering the legs, and less time is left for other types of work.
In past years we’ve spent this “other stuff” time on heavy lower body barbell training, upper body hypertrophy training, core strength/chassis integrity, calf strength and strength endurance, hamstring strength and strength endurance, glute medius strength endurance, and lower body explosive power.
Below is the basic weekly schedule for this year’s cycle:
- Monday: Eccentric Leg Strength, Upper Body Hypertrophy, Chassis Integrity
- Tuesday: Leg Lactate Tolerance, Uphill Endurance
- Wednesday: Eccentric Leg Strength, Upper Body Hypertrophy, Chassis Integrity
- Thursday: Leg Lactate Tolerance, Uphill Endurance
- Friday – Sunday: Rest or light activity
Changes to the 2018 Cycle
1) Replaced Quadzilla Complex with Leg Blaster Progression and for select athletes, a weighted Leg Blaster Progression
In 2017 and a couple of previous years we used our Quadzilla Complex as the primary tool to train eccentric leg strength. This summer we conducted a Mini Study which compared the strength building ability of the Quadzilla Complex with Leg Blasters and found Leg Blasters to be slightly better. I was surprised by the results, as I’d designed the Quadzilla Complex as a more intense “big brother” successor to the original Leg Blaster, but I replaced the Quadzillas from last year with Leg Blasters for this year. As well, for a few experienced, veteran lab rats, including myself, I loaded the Leg Blasters by having the athletes wear a 25# weight vest. I’m interested to see if the athletes loaded with the vest can make the progression and if they notice greater strength on the ski hill during the early season.
2) Touch/Jump/Touch To Box – Inside Hand Touch and increase to a straight 20 minutes of Intervals
We deployed the Touch/Jump/Touch to a Box exercise last year with great effect. This is my primary training tool to train Leg Lactate Tolerance. This year I made one small technique change and one big programming change. For technique, last year I had athletes touch their outside hand to the ground each rep. I changed this to the inside hand this year to better reflect the actual weight distribution and edging technique in skiing.
The more significant change is the increase to 20 minutes straight of intervals, following the same interval progression as last year. First, on the progression – it’s a simple work/rest interval based on 1-minute rounds. We begin at 15 seconds work, 45 seconds rest, and over the course of the cycle, advance to 30 seconds work 30 seconds rest.
Last year I split the 20 minutes of intervals in two – we did 10 minutes (or 10 rounds) at the beginning of the session, the took a break from the legs to train other stuff, and finished with 10 minutes of intervals at the end of the session.
This year I grouped all 20 minutes of intervals together at the beginning of the session. The effect is significant. Personally, by round 7 or so, I’m near panic breathing at the 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest progression, and many of the lab rats are gasping for breath with me. Grouping the intervals together in one long, brutal, 20-minute effort has created a significant overall increase in intensity which pushes my professional skiers to their limit.
The first video below shows the lab rats completing 20-second intervals to a 17″ bench.
Next one shows Freeski Pro, Forrest Jillson, completing TJT to Boxes using a 20″ box.
3) Committed to Multi-Modal Uphill Endurance Events
Last year for one of the uphill endurance days I programmed straight step ups based on reps. The second endurance day I programmed a time-based multi-modal loaded endurance effort of step ups, 25m shuttles and in-place lunges wearing a 25# weight vest.
The training effect and honestly, the variety, of the multi modal event I found to be superior to straight step ups, and as a result, for this year’s cycle, I’ve programmed multi-modal events for both uphill endurance events. Tuesday’s event combines step ups at 25# and sandbag getups. Thursday’s event combines step ups, prone to sprints, and sandbag clean and presses. The time-based progression for both events began at 30 minutes, and will progress to 40 minutes – which is as far as I can push it and still remain within the 60-minute session length.
4) Eliminated Total Body and Lower Body Concentric Strength Work to Focus on Upper Body Hypertrophy and Chassis Integrity
Last year’s cycle included heavy front squats and hinge lifts (our version of the dead lift). I cut these this year to focus all of the “extra” cycle time on upper body hypertrophy and chassis integrity.
Why upper body hypertrophy for skiing? This is a good question, and the direct answer is impact resistance. A half dozen of the professional freeskiers I’ve worked with over the years have suffered shoulder separations eventually requiring surgery caused by violent skiing crashes. My hope is by building upper body mass and strength, we can provide some “armor” for the coming season for impact resistance.
The remaining “extra” cycle time is spent training chassis integrity with TRE circuits, each of which trains one total core, rotational core, and extension exercise. Chassis Integrity is MTI’s proprietary functional core strength methodology and perhaps our most impactful programming development.
Lessons Learned So Far
We conclude the 3rd week of this 7-week cycle today and already I’ve made some programming changes from the initial design. Specifically, for the loaded leg blasters, my progression was too aggressive. In the past for Leg Blaster progression, I’ve programmed three training sessions at the same level, before progressing to the next level. I’m not sure this is possible for the loaded Leg Blasters … and may need to extend to four training sessions before progression.
Likewise, for the Touch/Jump/Touch to a Box – last year I progressed after three training sessions. This year, with the increased intensity of the 20 straight minutes of work – I’ve decided to not progress to the next level until the Lab Rats have four sessions under their belt.
See the chart below for the Leg Blaster and Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Progressions:
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